MARTIN KEOWN recalls how speaking to a sports psychologist turned Arsenal into winners
Manchester United were humbled in a 7-0 defeat to Liverpool on Sunday, their heaviest loss since 1931.
It came after an excellent run of form for the Red Devils that saw them win their first trophy in six years and begin to challenge the Premier League’s top two.
Any hopes of a title challenge now appear to be on hold, but United fans will be hoping their side can recover as quickly as possible as they continue to fight in the FA Cup and Europa League
In the wake of the loss, Erik ten Hag wants his players to spend more time with his sports psychologist Rainier Koers.
Here, Sportsmail talks to two of our ex-pros to find out if they ever turned to a ‘shrink’.
Manchester United players are expected to spend more times with a sports psychologist after their 7-0 loss to Liverpool
Sportsmail’s Martin Keown and Chris Sutton have opened up on their experience of sports psychology
The power of psychology in football is huge. Arsenal finished second to Manchester United in three successive seasons – 1998-99, 1999-2000 and 2000-01. First by one point, then by 18 points, then by 10 points.
We were also runners-up in two major finals – to Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup and Liverpool in the FA Cup. They were three years of bitter disappointment and heavy psychological blows, given we had won the Premier League-FA Cup double as a group prior to this period.
Arsene Wenger identified we needed help refocusing our minds and one day, this sports psychologist called Dave Elliott wandered in and told us, ‘You guys are second best’. We had World Cup winners dotted around the dressing room who weren’t really happy with those blunt comments. Who does this guy think he is? But we thought, ‘OK, we’ll listen to him’.
He then got us talking about how we could become winners again. We agreed we had to improve. It turned into a group discussion. The overwhelming agreement was that we had to get back to boiling point. I’d like to stress we already had an incredible manager with outstanding members of staff and a talented group of players. But the mental support is the icing on the cake.
Sports psychologist Dave Elliott helped turn Arsenal into winners under Arsene Wenger, says Keown
They won four trophies in three years after enlisting the psychologist’s help
If you can gain the mental strength to go alongside those special people and players, then anything is achievable. We found that extra 10 per cent and won our second Premier League-FA Cup double in 2001-02. Then the FA Cup in 2002-03. Then the Premier League as Invincibles in 2003-04.
We’d fronted up our issues, tackled our problems, and turned ourselves around. We had this tremendous team spirit. Maybe in those days, there was a stigma with psychologists in the football arena. But I believe they can help a team rediscover its goals.
I never had a psychologist per se. It would take a brave soul to wander through the corridors of my mind! Instead that was left to the manager.
He took on the psychology side as part of his role. If Kenny Dalglish wanted me in a particular frame of mind at Blackburn, he spoke with me.
It was the same with Mike Walker at Norwich, and Martin O’Neill at Celtic, and Gianluca Vialli at Chelsea. God bless his soul, Vialli was so good to me.
I’ve lost count of how many chats I had with Vialli in 1999-2000 as he put his arm around me to ease my conscience and make me feel as if I wasn’t letting him down, even though I knew I was. But the game has grown since I kicked a ball around.
Now every Premier League club has teams of coaches working for the manager, and it only makes sense to designate someone from this support network to focus on the players’ minds.
In December, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag brought in Rainier Koers. He’s someone whose website states he ‘guides people who get stuck in their lives due to major events’. In football terms, losing 7-0 to Liverpool might count as ‘major’.
Erik ten Hag will be hoping his players can bounce back fast as they continue to battle in the FA Cup and Europa League
I’m sure United’s players will have been talking that defeat to death ever since, with Ten Hag, with Koers, with each other.
Deep down, Bruno Fernandes and Co will know what went wrong at Anfield, how they let themselves down, how this result will be rubbed in their faces for years to come, how it’ll be a stain against their names, as Oliver Holt wrote in his Daily Mail column on Monday.
They don’t need telling all that by a psychologist. But now that it’s happened, it’s about helping them move on to the next match.
People were singing United’s praises before this 7-0 loss and in the aftermath of that annihilation at Anfield, ten Hag will have been desperate to remind his players of why.